[Articulate Presenter 5]
All the power the web author and developer could wish for, but this release is only truly convincing for heavy Flash users and new users looking for a bargain. .
With its planned takeover by Adobe this will almost certainly be the last version of Studio and its component applications released under the Macromedia brand. So is the company going out with a bang or a whimper? More importantly, does Studio 8 do enough to persuade users to part with their money?
In many ways this should be a no-brainer. With Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash Professional, Macromedia provides the market-leading standalone web authoring, web graphics (bitmap and vector) and web development applications (see separate reviews). More than this, with its shared interface and technologies, the integrated Studio suite can claim to be more than the sum of its parts. Especially so in this release, which also bundles two new components, Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2 (see What’s In / What’s Out boxout below).
Of course the argument isn’t solely about functionality, it’s also about value and here Macromedia is able to make the case for Studio even more compelling. In particular, the price for both Studio and its upgrade work out at over 40% cheaper than the equivalent combined standalone prices. And to encourage former users to rejoin the Studio bandwagon, Macromedia is offering the same upgrade price to previous users of any of the main component applications, making it even more of a bargain.
However it’s important to remember that there is no point paying for features that you won’t actually use. This puts things in a very different light. While all potential Studio users are likely to use Dreamweaver for producing their pages and Fireworks for producing their GIFs and JPEGs, the number who would make serious use of Flash will be much lower. And for those thinking about upgrading, the benefits for the mainstream page-based author are also correspondingly smaller. Look at the standalone reviews (see page ) and it’s clear that Dreamweaver 8 and Fireworks 8 remain market leaders of their respective fields thanks to their longstanding strengths rather than to any new must-have functionality.
For Flash users it’s a very different story. The new Flash 8 format and Flash Professional 8 authoring environment push forward on all fronts, building on the Flash player’s popularity to make “the world’s most pervasive software platform” more attractive than ever. Flash’s power and reach is undeniable and if you want to provide your users with the best possible web experience, Flash 8 provides the best way to do it and Studio 8 the best way for most users to buy into that future.
Flash Professional 8 replaces Dreamweaver as the core Studio application.
Ultimately whether you see Macromedia as going out with a bang or a whimper, and therefore whether you should pull out your credit card or not, depends entirely on your primary interest. If you’re producing page-based sites with Dreamweaver/Fireworks version 8 is a damp squib, but if you’re producing or planning to produce Rich Internet Applications with Flash it’s a breakthrough release. Unfortunately for Macromedia, despite Flash’s amazing strengths, the vast majority of web authors will be sticking with the much simpler page-based approach for some time to come.
Studio 8 is a watershed release, but for Macromedia most of its users fall on the wrong side of the line.
What’s In / What’s Out Boxout
Alongside its three main applications Studio 8 introduces two new supporting programs, Contribute 3 and FlashPaper 2 (see full review, issue ). Contribute is designed to enable those users who actually produce a site’s content to update it themselves using a simple browse/edit/publish methodology, while built-in protection and review features ensure that site standards are maintained. FlashPaper is designed for the same non-expert users and enables them to output any Windows document complete with all formatting to FlashPaper or PDF format ready for web display.
Contribute 3 enables site contributors to publish their own content.
Macromedia is pushing Contribute and FlashPaper as natural web partners to Studio 8, which is true to an extent. However it’s important to recognize that it’s not the proficient web authoring Studio 8 user who will actually use these programs. Both Contribute and FlashPaper will only benefit those Studio users who are producing sites where it is practical and desirable to let non-proficient content contributors update the site directly. And where this is the case, you’re almost certainly going to need more than one copy.
Ultimately then the inclusion of Contribute and FlashPaper is little more than a useful taster for a minority of Studio users. And there’s more bad news. Macromedia isn’t exactly highlighting the fact, but the biggest single change to Studio 8 is the omission of Freehand, its vector-based graphic design package. In a way this makes sense as Freehand, with its longstanding print-based pedigree, was always semi-detached from such a clearly web-focused suite. Over recent releases however Macromedia has grafted on a number of features that made the program a natural vector design partner for Flash and, despite Flash Professional 8’s new graphics capabilities, many Studio users will miss it badly.
Hopefully this isn’t the end of the road for Freehand and Macromedia contacts talked vaguely of a new version towards the end of the year. However this pushes any release beyond the likely Adobe takeover, so the jury is out. For Studio 8, the bundling of Contribute and FlashPaper and the omission of Freehand is certainly a case of half a step forward, one step back.
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